By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Meekness is an aspirational character trait and the mark of a natural leader. Tension arises within us because perfection in meekness is not within our grasp. Tension arises between us because leadership involves care and defense of the weaker among us. Tension arises with God because God pushes us to grow pushing our limits while our meekness forces us to live with the pain that growth entails.
Leadership Temptations. The unique thing about meekness is that it is invisible until tested. After his baptism, Jesus: “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2 ESV) The devil posed 3 tests:
1. Turn a stone into bread;
2. Become my vassal; and
3. Throw yourself down (Luke 4:4,7,9).
What is surprising about this story is that Jesus does not remain silent. He has been fasting and wandering the desert. Still, his answers are descriptive, not hauty. Jesus responds to the devil by citing 3 verses taken from the Book of Deuteronomy . Nouwen (1989, 7-8) sees these tests as common leadership temptations. Namely, the temptation to be relevant, powerful, and spectacular . He (82) observes that: “Christian leadership…is not leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the sufferign servant of Good, Jesus Christ, is made manifest.” In a word, Nouwen sees the Christian leader as meek, like the one who sent him.
Tension Within. The Apostle Paul talks about pursuing “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” (1 Tim. 6:11 ESV) He does not claim to have succeeded in obtaining them. Instead, he talks about inner tension:
“For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Rom. 7:18-19 ESV)
If Paul as an apostle of Jesus Christ cannot in his own power attain all the gifts of the spirit, including meekness, then we also must recognize that the journey of faith will have its ups and downs, and not dispair when we cannot attain perfection in Christ.
Tension With Others. A common complaint among pastors is that their job is 24-7. They are always on duty and called to be a good example. It is like living in a transparent tent in the middle of a parking lot. I always feel compelled, for example, to drive the speed limit when I am wearing a clerical collar—a heavy cross to bear living in the Washington Metro area! People are watching. Pastor, are you really meek?
A friend of mine asked: Isn’t meekness a personal attribute? How can you be meek when you are responsible for other people? One response is that Christian leadership is sacrificial. During his time in prison, for example, Bonhoeffer continued to function as a pastor being allowed to counsel other immates, even the guards (Metaxas 2010, 448). Sacrificial leadership can be painful and, yet, may never be appreciated. Several levels of meekness may be required.
Tension With God. Sacrificial leadership can also lead to suffering, which is never fun. Jesus was meek. But on the cross he also had a moment of dispair crying: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 ESV) Yet, in this moment of dispair he cites Psalm 22 which later ends in praise: “You who fear the LORD, praise him!” (Ps. 22:23 ESV)
We can be meek in the face of suffering, in part, because we know that the future is in Christ—we know that suffering is not the end of the story. The implication of the resurrection of Christ is that we too will share in his victory. As the Apostle Paul writes: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55 ESV)
 “…man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deut. 8:3 ESV) “It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.” (Deut. 6:13 ESV) “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test…” (Deut. 6:16 ESV)
 Scazzero (2006, 75-78) phrases these temptations more personally as the temptation to perform, to possess, and to be popular.
Metaxas, Eric. 2012. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1989. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company.
Scazzero, Peter. 2006. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.